Those of us who chose to cart our bologna sandwiches to school in a simple brown paper bag (with our name printed on the front, of course, and maybe a smiley face hand drawn by mom) should be seriously regretting it now. Yes, it was much less cumbersome to hold onto a bag than it was to try to juggle a metal lunchbox and thermos along with the pile of books that went home with us each night.
But now, to be honest, I’m seeking them out. Maybe you’re one of those boomer adults who has since bought a metal or even a plastic lunchbox to display in your home. More than any other collectible, lunch boxes seems to define the pop culture of the time. You can’t see a lunch box and not be swept back in time.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve bid on a metal Bobby Sherman box because one of my friends was the vice president of his fan club as a teenager. It has always fallen out of my price range. In the end, I found a great poster of collectible lunchboxes, and Bobby was featured. I’m still looking for the real thing though…like any good collector.
Remember at the beginning of the school year, and you were given the option of picking out that one lunchbox you’d carry for the year. It was like a fashion statement. You had a budget of a mere $5-10, but it would say quite a bit about you. Your reputation depended on that choice. All that for the $5-10. Now, let’s put that in today’s context. A mint condition metal lunchbox with lunchbox featuring the Fab Four Beatles can sell for upwards of $600 for the lunchbox and $200 for the thermos. Now, how many of them would you have grabbed for $5 way back when?
Many of these memory minders were manufactured by Aladdin Industries out of Nashville. Many other made boxes as well, but they either specialized in traditional “working man” boxes – -the old plaid or gun metal grey kind, or they manufactured in a particular part of the country. ADCO Liberty out of New Jersey, for example, only created boxes for two short years and specialized in things from that time period: The Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody, Mickey Mouse and Davy Crocket.
If you’re lucky enough to find the lunchbox of your dreams, assess the value. First, is it part of another collection? For example, if you have a room with a Western theme, something in the realm of Roy Rodgers, John Wayne or the like would fit right in. To boot, these boxes tend to incredibly colorful and catch a guest’s eye and draw it to your collection.
Obviously, you’ll pay far less at an auction or flea market, but you’ll never get the selection you’ll find at the classic antiques warehouse. The shop owner has done the work for you, so you really have to decide if money or the item is more important to you at this point. If it’s the only thing missing from your collection, you probably want to save your pennies. If you’re a collector of Disney material, so many versions have been made over the years, you may want to wait and look around. Buy what you can afford now, and gradually trade up to better things as time goes on.
Lunch boxes are one of those collectibles that you can tell it’s worth (at least to you) on sight. If you’re buying it for your own collection or to complement a room, you can tell what condition a lunchbox is with your own eyes. Collectors grade things in terms of Mint, Near Mint/Excellent, Fine, Very Good, Good and Poor/Fair. If it is for your enjoyment, and you’re not worried with the resale value, let your eyes be your guide. Color is a key. How has it held up over the years? That can tell you a bit about the wear as well. Look for rust and dents. Does the clasp work? Is the thermos intact? But in the end, the big question is, what part of all of this is important to you?
As you’re looking, check for other markings. Schools always instructed parents to label everything a child brought to school. Let’s face it, during Batman’s heyday, you’d find more than one Batman lunchbox on top of the coat rack. If the lunchbox is metal, you’re lucky. Odds are, a parent affixed some sort of tape with the child’s name to it. Don’t be zealous trying to get it off. Patience serves better in this case. Generally, the tape will peel off easily if you work the edges loose. If using your nails, be careful about scratching the painted surface. If the tape shows any resistance, soak the box in warm soap water and use a soft cloth to loosen the adhesive. Before soaking the box, check the actual writing on the tape. If a swipe with a cloth of hot soapy water makes the letters run, you may end up making the problem worse if the ink runs to the box. Again, it doesn’t matter much if this is a metal lunchbox, but if the tape and ink is on a plastic lunchbox, you run the risk of the color running and staining the plastic.
Many people have used nail polish remover to remove tape from glass, and that works fine. In this case, however, it can also take the color off of the lunchbox, be it metal or plastic.